FSIS tells meat and poultry industry how to handle customer complaints

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Contamination by “extraneous materials” has become enough of a problem that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is out with some new friendly advice to food producers on the issue.

Since this year began, FSIS-regulated companies have recalled 180 tons of meat and poultry products for “extraneous materials.” Recalls of raw ground pork patties, chicken nuggets, frozen pork, deli ham products, ground beef chubs, and breaded chicken products have all been due to “extraneous materials.”

The recalls came after food manufacturers found they’d shipped product in packaging that contained such “extraneous materials” as rubber, glass, hard plastic and metal.

“Extraneous materials” have recently been discovered by major and lesser-known food companies including Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. along with the Johnsonville, Bellisio, Sahlen, and Washington Beef food companies.

“Extraneous materials” recalls almost always begin with a consumer who finds something in the product that shouldn’t be there. New “best practices guidelines” are now available to help the meat and poultry industry respond when a customer calls with a complaint about non-food materials in food products.

“FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated,” FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg said when announcing the guidelines. “We will continue to work with industry and offer guidance to assist them in complying with agency regulations.”

Since 2012, establishments that are regulated by FSIS have had to report within 24 hours if they’ve shipped or received an adulterated product when the product is on the market. Recalls associated with foreign materials have increased in recent years, making use of the 24-hour rule a larger concern.

Last year, FSIS stepped up its emphasis on handling products containing foreign materials. Products are considered adulterated even when the foreign material does not present a food safety risk. Food companies cannot legally sell adulterated products.

Work on the latest guidelines began in mid-2018 to provide the meat and poultry industry with reference material on best practices along with recommendations on how to receive, investigate, and process consumer complaints.

While specifically developed for complaints about foreign material customer complaints, FSIS says regulated establishments, the same information should be useful for any customer complaint involving adulterated or misbranded products in commence.

According to FSIS, “when an establishment needs to recall the adulterated product from commerce, the establishment must identify the cause of the product adulteration and take steps to prevent recurrence in (its) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which federal inspectors review.”

The new guidelines are the agency’s current position on foreign material issues, and the industry should begin using them immediately. FSIS is accepting comments on them for the next 60 days at the federal eRulemaking portal.

The downloadable version of the new guidelines draft is available here.

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